BEIJING, Aug. 20 ( Xinhua) -- China has handed down the country's heaviest penalty for price monopoly to 12 Japanese auto parts suppliers in a series of anti-monopoly investigations, China's top price regulator confirmed Wednesday.
The fines, totaling 1.24 billion yuan (about 201 million U.S. dollars), were imposed on eight Japanese auto parts suppliers -- Hitachi, Denso, Aisan, Mitsubishi Electric, Mitsuba, Yazaki, Furukawa and Sumitomo -- as well as the bearing makers Nachi, NSK, JTEKT and NTN, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said.
The punishment was the heaviest in China's anti-monopoly history in terms of total combined fines.
Hitachi and Nachi were exempt from punishment as they were the first Japanese companies to report and offer evidence of their monopoly agreements, the NDRC said.
The fines for the 10 other companies ranged from about 30 million yuan to 290 million yuan, according to the NDRC.
Specifically, Denso was fined 150.56 million yuan, or 4 percent of its sales value last year. Yazaki, Furukawa and Sumitomo were fined 241.08 million yuan, 34.56 million yuan and 290.4 million yuan, respectively, or 6 percent of their sales last year. Aisan, Mitsubishi Electric and Mitsuba were fined 29.76 million yuan, 44.88 million yuan and 40.72 million yuan, respectively.
In a separate case involving auto bearing makers, NSK was fined 174.92 million yuan, while NTN was hit with 119.16 million yuan in fines and JTEKT was fined 109.36 million yuan.
Wu Dongmei, an NDRC anti-monopoly official, said Chinese inspectors began investigations into the 12 Japanese companies in April 2014, almost three years after Japanese anti-monopoly agency probes in 2010 and 2011.
Hitachi turned itself in to the NDRC on April 2 this year and submitted a report on the evidence and agreements the company had reached with other suppliers, Wu said.
The eight Japanese auto parts suppliers were found to have frequently met in Japan from January 2000 to February 2010 to negotiate prices and implement agreements on quoted prices for orders from the Chinese market.
The four bearing makers were also found to have convened meetings in Japan and Shanghai from 2000 to June 2011, conspiring on the time and scope of price hikes for bearing products sold in the Chinese market, and later raised their prices accordingly, the NDRC said.
These Japanese companies have violated the Chinese Anti-Monopoly Law by excluding or restraining market competition and thus damaging the rights and interests of downstream manufacturers and consumers, the NDRC said.
Their auto components, including starters, throttle bodies, and alternator harnesses, were sold to car makers Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Suzuki and Ford to produce about 20 types of cars in China.
Through multiple price-fixing agreements over the past decade, the Japanese companies have caused grave damage to the Chinese market, Wu said, adding that most of the supply contracts with fixed price quotes were in effect as recently as the end of last year.
Unlike U.S. and Japanese laws, the Chinese Anti-Monopoly Law does not stipulate criminal responsibility for staff and managers involved in monopolistic behavior, but provides administrative penalties and civil compensation.
All companies involved in the two anti-monopoly cases have come up with rectification measures for their sales policies and behavior, the NDRC said, adding it will continue to investigate other breaches found during their probes.
NSK Ltd., which was fined 174.9 million yuan, filed a statement to the Japanese stock exchange on Tuesday, saying the company has been fully cooperating with the NDRC investigation.
"We express our sincere regret for the concern this matter has caused our shareholders, customers, and other stakeholders," NSK said in the statement.
The latest punishment followed a series of anti-monopoly investigations by China into global top brands such as Microsoft, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Since 2008, when the anti-monopoly law went into effect, the NDRC itself has launched similar investigations into domestic and overseas LCD manufacturers, milk formula makers, pharmaceutical factories and liquor makers, handing down total fines worth 1.51 billion yuan, not including the penalties in the most recent cases.